U service helps students with car trouble

Erin Ghere

University extension student Barrett Brodersen’s dead car battery didn’t keep him on campus Monday morning, and getting assistance didn’t cost him a dime.
Rather than paying the more than $30 for a jump start, Brodersen called the Motorist Assistance Program, a service offered by Transportation and Parking Services, and was helped free of charge.
He is not alone — especially during midterm time.
The program aids the University community by unlocking and jump-starting cars and by changing tires. Last week, the program hit the benchmark of 20,000 people helped by the program since its inception in October 1993.
Other area companies, such as Gopher Towing and Stypa Brothers Towing, charge a minimum of $30 for each of those services.
Consistently, the rate of lockouts and dead batteries rises during midterm and finals weeks, employees of the program said.
“People are just not thinking about their cars,” said Art Kistler, maintenance manager of Parking and Transportation Services.
Comprising 60 percent of the program’s use, most calls come from motorists who cannot start their cars. Another 30 percent are lockouts, and about 10 percent are for flat tires or other services, Kistler said.
People will occasionally call because they are short of gas or can’t find their car, he added.
The service is designed exclusively for people legally parked in the University’s lots, but Kistler admitted that when students are in need, employees of the program willingly make exceptions.
If their rescue attempts are unsuccessful, referrals are also available.
“We have a high success rate,” Kistler said, adding that more than 95 percent of students who call the program drive away satisfied.
An average of 275 calls are answered each month, but last month the phones rang 438 times, most likely because of the subzero temperatures.
Between December and March is the program’s busiest time; May to August is the slowest, Kistler said.
Students deliver the services primarily, as well as receive them — the program is available only to University students, staff and faculty.
The program has seven trucks at its disposal, but rarely need that many. On an average day, one truck is doing the work, with one on backup.
If more than four calls come in during one hour, another truck will be sent out. The calls are taken in the order they are received.
Kistler said the program was born out of need — and for image modification.
“My perception is that it was a way we could try to improve the image of the department,” he said. “Parking is a necessary evil.”
The program was started after the department looked at similar programs at five other universities.
“We wanted to give back to the patrons in a way we could campus-wide,” Kistler said.
And they are pleased with the service, Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said.
“We think it has been very successful and the customers tell us it’s a valuable program,” he said.
The department gets more positive feedback from the program than for anything else, Baker added.
The services are offered 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday. For more information, call 626-PARK.
— Staff photographer Jonathan Chapman contributed to this story.